On Shelter, 2014's precursor to Kodama, Alcest sounded like they had finally abandoned metal for dreamy indie pop. While the direction wasn't new -- founder /multi-instrumentalist Neige had been incorporating shoegaze elements with post- and black metal since the very beginning -- it seemed he and drummer Winterhalter had finally surrendered to them wholly. Apparently, two years makes a difference. Here, Neige has rediscovered dynamics and his love for metal without sacrificing his deeply aesthetic lyricism.
The title Kodama is a Japanese word meaning "tree spirit" or "echo." And true to form, this date is a conceptual offering heavily inspired by animator Hayao Miyazaki's film Princess Mononoke, which explores the interrelationship of mankind and nature and their imbalance in post-industrial society. Here, like there, nature gets its due revenge. That said, unless you are fluent in French, you'll have to accept it on faith. The set's first single, "Oiseaux De Próre," offers twin layers of staccato picking in a minor key before erupting into a blaze of rolling drums, hyper strumming, and humming basslines (courtesy of Indira Saray). It slows momentarily for the verse before bleeding over into the red as Neige screams and Winterhalter responds by double- and triple-timing him. They begin an exchange in furious tempo and clashing harmonics. The title-track opener melds shoegaze with an all-encompassing blast of Neige's signature noise guitar sound and Kathrine Shepard's gorgeous guest vocals. Over nine minutes long, it goes through several shapes and dynamic shifts. "Éclosion" more straightforwardly accesses black metal; the meld of minor keys and vocal screaming illuminates just how melodic the verse is. Bass and drums add a monstrous, thudding low end to the proceeding. It gives way to "Je Suis D'Ailleurs," where furious strumming and plodding, forceful drums are the foundation for one of the more minimal yet blissful melodies here. The stacking of frontline and backing harmony vocals enter the terrain of the ecstatic. The slow spacious intro to "Untouched" breaks wide open to express a canorous, post-metal majesty. It's true that Alcest don't really offer anything musically new on Kodama; Neige does that in his lyrics. But the return of more physically intense music is welcome. The kinetic force that was missing on Shelter is a welcome (re)admission. Combined with the intense lyricism and dynamic contrasts, it makes for Alcest's most "complete" album since 2007's Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde. ~ Thom Jurek